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I expected colder temps as I set out for the mountains at 4 am.  What I failed to expect was that the calm where I lived would be replaced by 15 – 20 mph winds.  Fortunately I dressed warm and for the most part I was comfortable.  The hike from 5500 feet to 6000 feet also kept the blood pumping which meant for the first hour I was relatively comfortable.

Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest was created as one of the original federal Wilderness Areas when that designation was established in 1964.  The high mountain range consists of a concentrated number of mountain peaks in western North Carolina with several over 5000 feet and three, including Black Balsam Knob, over 6000 feet in elevation.  Surrounded by thickly forested mountains slopes the closest town, Brevard, NC is some 20+ miles south.

As I emerged from my car near the trailhead I was stunned by the vast number of stars visible this far from manmade lights other than those I had just turned off.  Since the moon had set, the stars had the stage all to themselves, and what a performance they gave.  For the second time in two weeks I caught the glimpse of a shooting star as it’s long and invisible existence came to a brief, yet fiery end colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.  The wind was howling as I entered the 200 meters of trail running through the strip of fir trees just off the service road.  I prayed a prayer of thanks for the folks who had laid white rock on the trail through the trees.  It would have been very easy to lose the trail without it.

Breaking through the trees, the expansive view opened to the first hints of light on the horizon.  An hour before the official sunrise, I had time to soak in the immensity and grandeur of the night.  Even without the moon, the stars were bright enough to give a sense of shape and flow to the land.  The dark shape of the mountain rising to my left and the swaying form of the trees I had emerged from falling off to my right were silhouetted against millions of stars.  Toward the eastern horizon the hint of color slowly grew with one bright star shining above the brightest point.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation speaks if we listen.  It is not loud or demanding, but more of a gentle whisper… most of the time.  The message is one of beauty, power, and majesty.  From the top of a cold, windy mountain bald far from civilization I knew the creator’s presence not as in an artist’s work created and left behind, but in a world that He Himself fills and sustains.  God – the Almighty, was there on the mountain and my spirit soared to embrace His loving presence.

Another thought came.  When I look at creation, I realize the utter emptiness of an atheistic point of view.  The belief that all of this – the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and the exact combination of so many variables necessary to sustain life, just happened in a cosmic accident, is far too hard to believe.  That all of this came from nothing is the definition of foolishness.  I don’t make light of the fact that there is much we do not know about life and the universe.  There are mysteries that we mere mortals do not and may not ever know.  But evidence and logic make an indisputable case of an intelligent designer and creator.

As the sun rose I realized that winter had come to the high places.  The trees were all bare and the grass-covered bald was colored in various browns and greys.  As a lover of light and color, the view through the photographer’s lens was much closer to bleak winter than the festive fall I had hoped to capture.

I hiked to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  By this time I had been out in the wind for a couple hours.  Being stationary while trying to snap long exposure shots, the chill had seeped through my gloves.  The fleece-lined jeans were doing their job and my son’s borrowed yarmulke had my head toasty, but I realized my fingers were numbingly cold.  The intensity of the wind made it a challenge to get my fingers warm.  Frost-bite was suddenly a concern.  I looked for shelter, but the trees were about a mile back down the trail over the open mountain ridge.  I had selected the rock out-cropping I was standing by to serve as a foreground element in a few shots.  I suddenly remembered David and Elijah taking refuge in the cleft of a rock.  Sliding down the lee side of the rock from the wind I found immediate relief.  As an added bonus the morning sun was now hitting me without the wind stealing it’s warmth.

Sitting beside the rock I was aware of warmth emanating from within as well as from outside.  The physical rock behind which I sheltered brought to mind the Rock Who is my forever shelter – Jesus Christ.  I had felt His presence the entire time on the mountain, but as the winds swept over and around the rock, I thought of the challenging times of my life when He walked me through.  Sometimes He had to carry me.  Always, His strength was able to supply what I lacked.  With a smile on my face I rested in the relative warmth of the sun and the eternal warmth of the Son.

I did manage to find some color at the lower elevations.  The following shots are some of my favorites of the day.

At mid-afternoon I found myself standing on Caesar’s Head overlooking the Blue Ridge escarpment falling off into the South Carolina piedmont.  A couple hawks and then buzzards flew by, but I did not see any of the Peregrine Falcons I had hoped for.  It was fine though because the view, like so many this day, inspired yet another thought, this time from Isaiah.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

It’s fitting that the last act of this trip was to make two new friends with whom I shared not only the view off the mountain, but a faith in the Lord.  As we stood there and chatted, we realized that we had been inspired by the view in a very similar manner – with wonder and praise for the Creator of such beauty.  We were standing on a different rock outcropping than my Black Balsam Knob, but since rock was a common thread running through this day, I enjoyed the thought that my two new friends and I were knit together as family because of our common faith in the Rock.  And that Rock’s name is Jesus.

I hope you enjoy the pics.  But even more I hope you are encouraged by the truths the Lord has given to us… to you every bit as much as to me.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:37-39

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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We were fortunate to be in the center of the eclipse that crossed the USA this week.  It was surreal seeing the clouds on the northwest horizon suddenly go dark while clouds all around were still brightly lit.  Within a few seconds the light went dim as if a dimmer switch dialed down our celestial light just short of the “off” position.  As I slowly spun around, the “sunrise” visible on all 360 degrees of the horizon was beautiful.  The corona flared from behind the sun while pearls of light trickled through lunar valleys 250,000 miles away.  One hundred a fifty-three seconds after it started, the diamond ring appeared and our eclipse glasses had to go back on.  It was an amazing, and for most of us once-in-a-lifetime, experience.

Since I am in a sling I wasn’t able to do much photography during the eclipse.  However, I found several really good pics on the website BoredPanda.com.  I am attaching ones that I particularly enjoyed.  I hope you enjoy them too.

The hype for the eclipse was tremendous here in the USA, and particularly for those of us  in the “zone of totality”.  The eclipse became a cultural event crossing the US from coast to coast.  It was a nice respite from controversial matters, if only for a day.  One commentator in Oregon even made mention that for some the eclipse was a “spiritual” event.  While I don’t subscribe to the stars dictating things of the spirit, there is precedent of the Lord using the stars and other celestial bodies to point us toward truths that He wants to emphasize.  Here are some truths that yesterday’s eclipse brought to mind.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
https://www.bible.com/bible/59/JHN.1.5   The sun is hidden from view during an eclipse, but is never put out; likewise, Jesus is the one and only Light of the World.  His enemies try myriad ways to diminish or divert His light, but they cannot.  The light of the sun was darkened for a time, but it was never put out.  All we had to do was wait and trust in the light we couldn’t quite see and shortly the light again shown brightly upon us.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Psalms 19:1-6 https://www.bible.com/bible/59/PSA.19.1-6

The ancients thousands of years ago saw the same sun, moon, and stars we do.  They stood in awe of the marvels in the heavens and realized that the intricacy and order in the universe point to the existence of a creative hand.  The second law of thermodynamics states that all things progress from order to chaos without the input of energy.  There had to be an intelligent designer- creator to achieve the tremendous complexity and perfect inter-relationships we see in creation.

“”Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  Matthew 24:29-31  https://www.bible.com/bible/59/MAT.24.29-31

There is a day coming when Christ will return.  By His resurrection, Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the grave.  Yet God has chosen to allow life on earth to continue until a set time, a time of His design.  Until then every person has the opportunity to draw close to God or to turn away from Him.  There is a climax to time on this earth and one set of heralds of this end are amazing signs in the heavens.  One of these signs sounds like an eclipse that is witnessed by multitudes.

Those who follow Jesus, who have traded their broken sinful lives for His, will rejoice at His appearing.  Those who have chosen to follow anything other than a relationship with Jesus will be dismayed.  They will mourn, for they have chosen not just the lesser thing, but the wrong thing.

My prayer as I close is that you will be lifted and encouraged by the pics to consider the awesome Creator Who provides such amazing sights.  And as great as His creative genius is, His all encompassing love is even greater.  I encourage you to seek Him while He may be found.

Be blessed and be a blessing today.

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When our youngest son announced he was going to complete his under-graduate work in Germany, I began making family travel plans to visit as he completed his studies. Since flights are a major expense we began saving money and vacation time so we could spend three weeks sightseeing in Europe. With over a year to plan, I did a lot of research and built an impressive list of things we wanted to do and see.

As I have stated before, my desire in this blog is to share my faith story in progress – an open, honest picture of the ebbs and flows of one person’s walk with God. I intend to show God’s grace which is a constant even though at times I progress in this life in Christ while at other times I slip. God always uses my misses to teach me valuable life lessons when I give them to Him. Our epic European trip demonstrates this in an unusual, yet marvelous way.

Because trip planning began so early, about March I had a pretty full itinerary for the three weeks in July. It was also about this time that I began sensing a check in my spirit about the trip. By April I had come to realize I had once again rushed ahead of God. I planned this great trip, but it was with a vision of “pack in all the fun and historical sights I can” without really seeking the Lord’s guidance on what to do. I was guilty (once again) of what I believe is all too common for many of us… “Here is what I’m going to do God, please bless it.” Rather than taking the time to seek the Lord’s guidance from the beginning, I rushed ahead and did my own thing.

The climax came during a time of prayer when I realized I had to give up the trip. I was on a business trip later in April when I told the Lord I was willing to give up the trip and I meant it. Even as I began figuring out how to start canceling the multiple elements of the trip, I sensed the Holy Spirit reassure me that if I had a heart to accept His leading throughout the trip, He would be glorified. With this came a sense that I had to hold my plans and expectations for the trip very loosely. Additionally, the understanding came that there may well be challenges to arise that would make the trip less fun than what I was planning. I remember again offering this up to the Lord for His glory.

The trip arrived and we experienced several great days of sight-seeing. One highlight was the many new friends made on our Viking Rhine River cruise. Here are a few of my favorite pics as we visited 6 different places in France, 4 different locations in Switzerland, 6 places in Germany, and one UNESCO World Heritage site in the Netherlands before heading to Prague to begin our final week visiting the Czech Republic, Vienna, and Budapest.

Our arrival in Prague by train from Berlin was a bit chaotic. Expecting our son Sam, who has become quite competent in German, to be our initial guide was a bit unfair. They don’t speak German there. However, between his understanding of city travel in Europe and Google Maps we found our AirBnB and then the E-Bike rental. And this is where the story took an interesting turn.

Most of our E-bike tour in Prague was really great. We had clearing weather and after riding through several interesting spots in the Little Quarter, Old Town, and the Jewish Quarter, we crossed the Vltava River and climbed up to the Castle District. I am including a few pics from this portion of the trip.

After visiting St Vitus Cathedral inside the castle complex we headed further along the Castle Hill. I noticed my front tire was going flat. Since we were close to the end of the trip I assumed I could make it the final half mile. Unfortunately, the final leg was down a relatively steep hill through an orchard. I made it down the straight part but the curve at the bottom proved my undoing. Even riding the brakes hard all the way down the hill I was having difficulty controlling the bike. In the curve, I lost control and crashed landing hard on my right shoulder. I broke my right clavicle at the end next to the shoulder joint.

The realization that I may have done serious damage came pretty quickly. Miss KJ, our guide, came back to check on me when I didn’t show up with everyone else. (I was last in line.) I am so appreciative of her help. We called for the ambulance and she and I sat in the orchard by the bike path waiting for them to arrive. Up to this point my body was somewhat in shock, but as we sat there, crystal clarity came over me. I knew the “vacation” was over for me, but I had an absolute peace. As I began to pray I was absolutely overwhelmed by God’s goodness and love. Instead of prayer, praise just flowed forth. I knew that my plans were gone and yet I could not help but smile because of the certainty of God’s immediate presence which I was experiencing. And I was also aware it was not for my benefit alone, but for Miss KJ and others who might hear this story.

The ambulance ride, the hospital visit, x-rays, and the conclusion that my shoulder was broken and needed surgery consumed the next 3+ hours. Throughout that time though I was never alone even when there was no one else present. I remember two more times when the love of the Lord again became tangibly real. At one point, I was left alone in the front hallway of the hospital facing the open front door. The hospital was in a building that I am sure is older than most (if not all) communities here in the USA. There was no traffic whatsoever outside being on the cul-de-sac of a narrow, cobblestone drive. But there were large trees across the cobblestone drive. As I sat looking at the golden light filtering through the trees, the wind began flirting with the leaves causing branches to sway and leaves to wave. I was reminded of Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit arrives as a mighty wind, touching the lives and enlivening the spirit of those who seek the Lord. And I was again enraptured.

The final divine touch that evening occurred as we were leaving the hospital. Miss KJ had been a tremendous help. None of the medical personnel knew enough English to communicate effectively. Thankfully Miss KJ served as our interpreter. As we left the hospital – my wife, Miss KJ, and I prayed together and the sense of the Lord’s love for us and for Miss KJ was amazing. I have experienced God’s touch many times and in many mountaintop experiences, but what I experienced in Prague with a broken shoulder on that Sunday evening was miraculous. No pain meds, no real treatment other than to be x-rayed and given an arm sling, nothing but the Lord’s grace carried us through a broken shoulder and the loss of 6 vacation days with peace and even joy.

As I type this one handed… with my left hand… it’s 16 days later. I have had surgery and I have a hook plate installed holding my clavicle together so it can mend. I have learned to do most things left handed. I am functional, if neither fast nor good with the left hand. And there are some things I simply can’t do now that I could before the fall. But these things are all temporary.

I didn’t have regrets as I sat in that orchard realizing our vacation was over and I still don’t. Because the Father had brought me to a place of relinquishing control, I have not been battered by what-if’s and regrets. I know that the Father’s plan is perfect. I am satisfied that in my accident, God is bringing good out of it. He is revealing Himself to others and meeting needs that otherwise would have remained hidden and unmet. And that makes me smile. My arm may be in a sling, but my life is in His hands and that’s a marvelous place to be.

Be blessed my friends. Seek the Lord with all your heart and you will find that He is but a whisper away.

Don’t forget to be the blessing you were created to be!

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Good Morning or Guten Morgen as we are docked in Kel, Germany this morning as we awake. I have had a challenging time keeping up with my pictures and posting to you due to the fullness of our schedule. (Also, the number of pics I am taking.) Hopefully now that we are onboard the Longboat Eir on the Rhine River, the pace will slow enough to edit and post a few pics. This morning being Sunday I’d like to post a few pics of our Mt Pilatus excursion and tell a story of affirmation that the Father gave me up on the mountain.

Several weeks ago, my friend Greg shared with me how God powerfully spoke to him one day when in a time of prayer and meditation he asked, “Lord, what would you have me know today?” I was thinking about that a few days later during my prayer time and so I asked the same thing. Upon asking that question I opened my bible and these verses literally jumped out at me.

Proverbs 3:5&6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight. (or direct your steps as I’ve memorized it).

Proverbs 4:4 “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.”

Proverbs 2:7&8 He (the LORD) holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, He guards the course of the just and protects the of His faithful ones.

That has turned into a recurring theme for me in my prayer time since. And our Mt Pilatus adventure was one of three or four times on this trip where the Lord has again affirmed my role of trusting in Him fully and His faithfulness in guiding and leading.
MT PILATUS

The day broke cloudier than forecasted, but as morning warmed, the low clouds dispersed some and sunshine and beautiful blue sky became predominant. Our drive from Zurich to Lucerne revealed the charming Swiss countryside – crisp, clean, and green. While navigating into Lucerne I could see the much higher mountains across the lake were visible on the lower reaches, but shrouded in clouds at the top.

We met our guide, Annette, and boarded the bus to the cable car for the ascent up the mountain. Up to the first and second cable car connections we remained under the clouds and the view became increasingly expansive and majestic. We switched cable cars at around 4000 feet elevation where we were still under the cloud cover, but in deep shade because of them.

The final cable car was a 30- passenger car that swiftly whisked us up from 4000’ to the visitor center near the summit at 6700’. I fly frequently so the sensation of entering the clouds and “white out” is common. However, it was a little disheartening when you are anxiously anticipating the amazing 360-degree view which includes close-ups of the Alps and you exit the cable car to white-out outside and gift shops inside.

The girls headed to the gift shops and Jeff and I wandered outside into the fog. We walked around a bit managing to find a trail to a mini-summit with a cross on it. The picture in the fog was a little hard to see, but we snapped it to show we had “climbed higher”. To add insult onto injury, there were posted placards that showed the amazing view we could be seeing if we weren’t wrapped in the deep fog. I have to admit, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

I know what some of you may be thinking… “Dan, you are on this amazing trip… you had all the beautiful views on the way up… you are with your wonderful wife on an adventure of a lifetime and you are feeling sorry for yourself? What ingratitude!” Well, you happen to be right.

Fortunately, it was only a little later I realized that for myself. As Jeff and I worked our way down this little path I noticed another path diverting along the mountain top. I took that path off into the fog as Jeff headed to check on the girls.

I’ve learned that for me, as for many people I imagine, it is hard to really focus upon God, to seek His wisdom and guidance, and to clearly hear Him speak to my heart when: 1) I am ungrateful, 2) I am focused upon my own schedule / plan / or goals, or 3) when I am surrounded by to many distractions, like hundreds of other tourists. When I started down that foggy mountain trail, I had given up my goal of seeing the view from the mountain top because there was no view to view. I headed down a trail that the crowds either didn’t know of or care about.

As I trudged with my camera in hand I felt my heart softening as I realized what I have mentioned above. I was not where I wanted to be in my heart. The reality that the God of the Universe loves me and has provided bountifully for me began to fill my awareness. I repented of my self-centeredness. I moved into thanking the Father for the many wonderful blessings He has provided to me and the ones I love. Then I began praying for family, friends, my Radmen friends, and others whom I knew God was going to send across my path.

As I am sure many of you have experienced, I felt a weight lift. My soul was lifted as I turned my heart toward our good, good Father. And I hiked through the fog with an uplifted spirit. After a little while I noticed a couple young Swiss ladies hiking up from down below. I asked how far down until I could be below the clouds. Through their minimal English (and my non-existant German) I understood it was several hundred meters. I prayed asking the Lord to guide me whether to hike down or not. I sensed to stay the course, so instead of hiking down I exchanged pictures with them and continued along the path in the fog.

The next 10 – 15 minutes of hiking the rugged mountain trail in the fog was delightful. I had given myself over to accepting whatever opportunity I was provided to meet people and love them with Jesus’ love. I remember whispering one little prayer, “Lord, I’d love to see some of the view from up here.” But that prayer was uttered from a place of complete surrender. Whether the fog lifted or not, I was satisfied the Lord would do what was best.

I stepped into the gift shop to find girls and then a water closet and when I stepped out I was shocked – I could see all the way across the patio… and even the near-by summit that had been completely shrouded in fog the entire day. I quickly hustled out with camera in hand and snapped a few pictures. I saw the trail to the highest peak beside me and I quickly headed up the final 300 feet toward the now- visible summit. I had not gone far before the clouds began to close in again. I realized I had gotten exactly what I had asked for although now having a taste, desire for more sprang up tempting me back into the self-centered funk I had been in earlier.

“NO! God, you have been good to me. Lord, I thank you for the glimpse that you have given me. It was beautiful. And I loved the fact that across on the summit opposite me there was a cross.”

I remembered at that moment that our guide explained how the mountain got it’s name. Surprisingly it is named after Pontius Pilate. It seems that when he died, no one was willing to take his remains. So, they brought them to this mountain and threw them in a lake. The irony that on the mountain where Pontius Pilate’s remains may lie, there is a beautiful cross just resonated God’s greatness.

At that moment, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes, Lord, I trust you”

At that moment, for about 3 seconds, a single ray of light broke through the cloud and illuminated me and the trail where I was standing. While that thrilled me, I sensed I was to hike on to the top. The clouds quickly swirled back around me, but I pressed on. In less than 5 minutes I was at the top. As I arrived the clouds opened again for about 3 minutes. I did something a little uncharacteristic for me. Instead of whipping up my camera and snapping dozens of shots, I moved from side to side soaking it in and praising God. I did get a few shots before the clouds completely settled back in, but I mainly just worshipped.

There was one other thought that I believe was a gift from the Lord. One of the shots that you will see is of the cross on the other summit. It was clearly seen when I first got to the top, but I didn’t take the picture until it was almost obscured again. I was a little sad when the fog closed back in and I couldn’t see the cross. That was when the Holy Spirit spoke to me again. “Do not worry. Like that cross which is still there even though you don’t see it, I am always with you.”

 

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The start of the first chair lift in Kriens.

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Two happy tourists – our daughter Rhiannon and my photography padewan, Jeff.  He’s also our son-in-law.

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Just getting started.  About 1500 – 2000 feet up I believe.

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Just about to enter the first cable house.  Still 15 minutes to go in this car.

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The distance from cable house one to cable house two where we exited to the final cable car.

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View back to cable car house one.  You can see the Swiss central highlands spread out past Lake Lucerne.

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Cable Car house two and our first exit.  Elevation about 4000 feet and just under the clouds.

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This high valley had a ropes course, a toboggan ride, and other extreme sports activities.  We had to wait about 10 minutes for the 30 person cable car to the top.

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Sign showing our trip.

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In the 30 passenger cable car heading out from the station.

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Last view before going into the clouds.

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This was one of the clearer shots when we first arrived.  These horns were so mournful when we hiked around and could hear the sound in the deep fog.  One other remembrance – when the fog lifted, the guy was playing Amazing Grace.  I don’t know if he started before or after the fog lifted, but it was so cool.

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Jeff as we head up to the mini-summit.

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Jeff at the foot of the cross.

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Me at the cross.  See how deep the fog is.  This was true for almost the entire first hour we were up here.

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Look how steep the “not steep” side of the trail was.  We were a good ways into the alpine region above the tree-line.

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I am on the steep side of the mountain.  The Swiss girls took my picture for me.

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This was what I saw when I came out of the water closet.  That is the mini-summit where Jeff and I had hiked about an hour earlier.

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Another shot during the first brief opening in the clouds.

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View over the gift shop during the first opening, but as the clouds were sweeping back in.

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View at the highest point I hiked to on Mt Pilatus – summit Esel at 2118 meters or 4000 feet.

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The entire moutaintop at the clouds begin to settle back in.

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Summit Tomlishorn, a little higher at 2138 meters.  This is where the cross I mention in the story is.  This is my wide angle lens so it is so far away it is hard to see.

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The cross on the summit of Tomlishorn, the highest peak of Mt Pilatus. 

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Heading back down the trail, confident that God is always with me.  Just like that cross that I could no longer see because of the fog, yet I know is still there, God is with me and with you even when the fog of trials, challenges, and difficulties arise.

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The cog-railway we rode down.  It has the steepest incline of any railway in the world with one section at a 48 degree descent.

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Final view of the mountain top from the cog railway on the ride down.

Friends, it was thrilling. In fact, I guess it qualifies as a mountain top experience – twice over!

 

 

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A friend of mine introduced me to trail running a couple years ago.  It combines two of my favorite activities – running for fitness and hiking in the outdoors.  I definitely prefer trails to running on the road.  However there are more opportunities for mishaps in trail running.  My experience after 15 or so solo trail runs, there are also numerous opportunities for “life lessons” while on the trail.  I had a number of life lessons reinforced in a single run this week.

There is a state park between the plant where I am working and my hotel.  Morrow Mountain State park is a rolling, wooded haven for deer, squirrels, lizards, and more in central North Carolina.  I’ve hiked and run there a number of times and I enjoy the peaceful solitude.  On the trails I have encountered few other travelers although the trails appear fairly well travelled.

Trail running in West Virginia last week I slightly tweeked my ankle, so I was a little apprehensive considering this trail run.  The Morrow Mountain trails are very rocky with a plethora of tree roots providing trip and ankle-rolling hazards.  For this reason I made sure I told two folks at the plant my plans.  In the back of my mind I thought, “In case I don’t show up at work tomorrow, they will know where to send a search party.”  Both gentlemen shared stories about adventures at Morrow Mountain with snakes and ticks being a predominant theme.

When I pulled into the open field that serves as the parking lot I was only slightly surprised there were no other vehicles.  While this is the parking lot for the horse trailers as well as the start of a hiking only trail, my sense is that is primarily a summer and weekend activity.  My plan was to run about 4 miles.  Looking at the map I made a plan to start on the hiking trail for about a mile, jump onto a cross-over hiking trail for about a half mile, then pick up the short loop horse trail for the remainder of the run.  At the last minute I folded up the map and slipped it in my pocket.  I’m glad I did.

I set off and I had to remain focused on the number of roots and rocks in my path.  The hiking trail was neither smooth nor level.  My hyper-caution was making the run less fun.  When I first began trail running I was amazed to learn that trail running really only took a little greater attention to the trail than street running.  However since I had tweeked my ankle last week, I was too focused on the trail and I was overthinking my steps.  Life lesson #1 It is easy to slip into the need to control everything.  We can’t.  Trying to do so will rob the enjoyment out of life.  Trust God and the instincts He has given us.  Prudence is to listen to the Lord and walk (or jog) in wisdom.  I stopped after about 1/3 mile, stretched, and made my mind up to run more naturally and quit trying to plan every step.  It was mentally fatiguing and, as I had experienced in the past, unnecessary.  Running after that was much better.

After about a mile I was to jump on a cross-over trail.  I didn’t notice the cross-over when I first passed it since it was on a steep downhill descent.  I overshot it by half a mile.  When I realized my mistake I cringed.  If I kept to my original plan, them my run just became a 5 mile run instead of a 4 mile run.  I am a 3 – 4 mile run guy.  It’s been awhile since I ran 5 miles and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.  Life lesson #2 – Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that demand more of us than we think we are able to give.  Sometimes we realize we are headed in the wrong direction.  Seek God’s wisdom, follow His leading, and press on wherever He guides you.  If we find we are heading in the wrong direction, turn around.  He is faithful and true.  He will not abandon His child.

I found the cross-over trail and set off down it.  It was a section of trail that I had not been on before.  I had hiked this trail further ahead where it steeply ascends Morrow Mountain, but this section appeared on the map to run downhill for a ways and cross a couple streams before turning up the mountain.  I had run for a few minutes and crossed at least one stream when I noticed the trail turn up a steep slope.  “On no,” I thought.  “I’ve missed the turn again and now I’m heading up the mountain.”  My recent memory of adding a mile to the run was fresh in my mind.  I did not want to add any more distance to today’s run.  A quick consult of my map and I saw that the trail I wanted shouldn’t be more than 100 yards east of me since I had just crossed that stream.  So I headed off the trail toward what I assumed was the right trail.  Well 100 yards became 200 yards.  When I realized there was no trail, I turned south intending to cross the Bridle trail that showed up on the map.  That was IF my new estimate of my location was correct.  I wandered around in the woods for about 5 minutes with three thoughts.  First was the thought that the trail has to be around here somewhere.  The second and third thoughts were about snakes and ticks.  I’m not sure why that part of my earlier conversation made such an impression.  Life Lesson #3.  Fear is a poor partner in decision-making.  Fear can and will steer you off the proper path if you let it take an inordinate role in making decisions.  Fear has a role.  It can cause us to stop and think through a situation critically.  Once you stop though, use data and rational thinking to make your decision.

I finally stopped and did a serious reconnoiter.  My Boy Scout training kicked in.  Panic was the enemy.  Fear of running too far and driven me off the trail.  Now fear of snakes and ticks were clouding my critical thinking.  And for the first time in several minutes I prayed.  “Lord, I need a little help here.”  Was I lost?  Well, I didn’t know exactly where I was.  But I knew the direction where the trail I had left should be.  I set off in that direction not sure if it had turned away and up the mountain or not, but at that moment getting back to that trail was my best bet.  I had only gone a little ways when I saw movement and color up ahead of me.  It was a hiker, the 2nd and last I would see all evening.  I knew I was headed right direction.  I picked up my pace and soon I was on the right trail.    There was another life lesson here.  Life Lesson #4.  When you lose your way, God is right there with you.  Call to Him.  Ask for help.  Follow His guidance.  Critical thinking is very good.  Prayerful, critical thinking is the best.

My attempt at avoiding adding extra distance to my run added about a half mile.  I was at the point that should have been a little over a mile and I was not too far from 3 miles into my run and I was pretty sure I had at least 2 miles left to run.  I set off again now that I had the trail.  It was familiar and, being predominantly a horse trail, it was wide and smooth.  Life Lesson #5.  Life, like the trail that day, has twists and turns, ups and downs.  The Lord has laid out a path for us.  While the path won’t always be easy, it is the tried and true way to your destination.  Don’t seek to avoid the challenges, but rather face them head on and persevere to the end.

The remainder of the run was relatively uneventful.  I guess I had enough to consider after all the lessons of the day.  As I jogged and prayed I sensed the Father’s presence encouraging me to press on.  Nearing the end of the run was a quarter mile, very steep incline.  I knew it was coming and as I got to the base of it, I simply started walking and gauging my fatigue level.  While tired, I was confident that if I stayed the course I would make it.  And after 5-1/2 miles and a little over an hour I found the parking lot and my car.

Thankfulness for the Lord’s kindness, care, and the life lessons which made a physically demanding run so insightful flooded my soul.  I think I’ll be back… but I will probably hike instead of run…. and I will definitely stay on the trail.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a blessing to whoever the Lord brings into your life today.

 

 

 

 

 

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I had a bad travel day this week.  What was supposed to be 8 hours of travel from a worksite to home became a 28-hour ordeal.  Three canceled flights coming out of one airport, the last one after I had only gotten a little sleep in order to be at the airport at 5:15 am for my trip home, left me pretty frustrated.  As I road in the taxi for the 1-1/2 hr trip to a different airport to wait 5 hours for a flight that hopefully would get me home, I admit I was throwing a pity party in my mind in my own honor.

At the airport I waited until a little after 7 to awaken my wife with a phone call for our morning conversation and devotion.  She didn’t realize immediately that I wasn’t supposed to be talking to her at that moment because I was supposed to be in the air heading home.  However, her sympathy and encouraging words, began the process of getting my mind right.  When she read the devotion from Jesus Always by Sarah Young though, that is when the Lord really lifted me up.  It was a reading inspired for that moment.  I’m convinced He does this often if we are open to it.  I have included a picture of the devotion below.  The gist was that God is with us at all times and we can trust Him at all times –  in the good times and the bad times. 

Well friends, that reading was like the sunshine breaking through after 5 days of rain and overcast skies.  While I was still about 12 hours from getting home, I knew the Lord was present and that His love was real and tangible.

As I boarded my first flight 5 hours later, I followed a petite young lady down the jet bridge.  I didn’t realize it yet, but Miss K was to be my seat mate.  On recent trips, I have rued the fact that no one chats on flights anymore.  It had been a long time since I had a good conversation on one of my flights.  The ever present and attention-sucking smart phone is one of the primary reasons.  And I can be just as bad as anyone.  Thankfully… in fact providentially, our trip was not one of those trips. 

Almost immediately after sitting down, Miss K expressed exasperation that she had left her book in the bag she gate-checked.  So instead of reading we began to chat.  Another confession on my part, in some instances I look to use conversations to share God stories.  I know that some of the miraculous things God has done in our life is for encouraging other people.  However, I am also aware I can “force” things and it is so much better to allow the Lord to lead the conversation.  Well that is exactly what happened this day. 

Miss K shared that she was considering going back to school for a career change.  It was casual conversation and I did not pick up that there was a problem or issue driving this.  As she was sharing a scripture came strongly to mind. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I shared that with her and then the natural flow of the conversation caused me to share how the Lord had faithfully guided me through a job change that occurred over a period of 15 months.  Now until this point I had only glanced at Miss K.  But as I neared the end of the story, I looked her in her eyes.  It was only then that I noticed the tears rolling down her face.  There was backstory for her that she had not shared.  The work situation she was in was very difficult and she was seeking the Lord’s guidance in what to do.  Of course as she shared, now I began feeling wetness on my cheeks.   A few moments later I started laughing as I realized – the Lord only had to ground three flights and to get me on this flight next to Miss K and provide exactly the right devotion to adjust my attitude so we could have this conversation.  Suddenly the unfortunate travel day had purpose…  I am so thankful that the Lord gave Miss K what she needed.  I am totally confident He will lead her into her next steps.  I am also thankful to know that when things don’t go my way, I can lean into God’s faithful, ever-present love and know He is working things out for good.

This morning as I type on my back porch with the sun just rising and the birds singing songs of praise to the Creator, My heart is overflowing with gratitude that the Lord loves us and He is infinitely trustworthy.  Whether things are going well or they are far from “perfect”,

He is there,

He loves us,

He is in control,

and we can trust in Him.

Be blessed today my friend and be a blessing.

April 28 Devotion

 

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I love spring.  The bursting forth of new life thrills my soul.  The awakening of the countryside from the drab greys and browns of winter to multi-colored flowers set against the backdrop of green simply makes me happy.

We recently experienced the birth of our 4th grandchild.  My wife helped with the delivery and today Lilah Joy is 7 days old. We actually have two grandchildren now who were born on Good Friday.  Jasper Leland was born on Good Friday 4 years ago.  As I held Lilah last night I couldn’t stop thinking about what a precious gift I held.  As she lay restfully sleeping in my arms she was totally at peace.

I was reminded that this is what God wants for each one of us… to rest in Him, to put our trust in Him, to be His child and be at peace.  Holding this precious child and considering the amazing love God has for us was both humbling and inspiring.  Roman 8:14-17 comes to mind.  We are His children and He wants to be known as our “Abba”, our Daddy.

It seems appropriate that for most of us Easter corresponds with spring.  Jesus’ resurrection marks the ultimate of new life.  There are a number of ways that Jesus coming to earth, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection changed the world forever.

There is salvation.  The price for our sin has been paid and we can enter into a right relationship with God as our Father through what Jesus did on our behalf.

There is freedom.  The power of sin is broken because of what Jesus did.  We can experience freedom from the dominating and destructive habits of our old self because of the cross and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit given to each one who accepts God’s gift of salvation.

Oh, and there is purpose.  We no longer are subject to the whims of a fickle nature.  We are called and equipped to live a life that has God-ordained purpose.

There is praise overflowing.  God gave us new life to live in Him and to live for Him.  Our lives are testaments to the one, wholly, and Holy Other.  God is worthy of our constant praise.  We do this best by living in close communion with Him and responding in prompt obedience to His nudges.

Yes, spring has sprung.  The tomb is empty.  And there is new life… radical…rich…full… abundant new life available to all who trust in and give their lives to Jesus – the lover of our souls.  Rejoice my friend.  He is ALIVE!  And so are we.  Death no longer has a hold on us.  Neither does sin, at least it doesn’t have to.  The only power sin has left is the power we give it.  Let sin no longer reign in your body, but live your life totally immersed in Jesus and His saving, cleansing, healing, delivering power.  Again I say REJOICE!

Be blessed today my friend as you bask in the new life Christ Jesus provides.

As a new grandpa’s prerogative, I included a few pics of our new grand-daughter who helped inspire today’s blog.

 

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